“The evolution of language marked a great leap forward for our species. It boosted our cognitive abilities by webbing us together into larger, more powerful group minds. I believe that another quantum step in human cognition awaits us on the other side of direct linkage of our brains and minds to one another. Those linkages are here and are rapidly spreading. To understand and peacefully direct the transformation they represent, we must try to recreate neuroscience through the paradigm of groups of connected brains, and we must do so immediately.” – Nexus by Ramez Naam
One of my favorite films of all time is The Matrix. As a young, impressionable teenager, I was blown away by the philosophical ideas the story grappled with, how it’s themes were inspired by Eastern traditions like Taoism, and the futuristic technology it explored. One of my favorite scenes of the movie was Neyo downloading a library of fighting styles into his brain, speaking this famous line:
The ability to link the mind to a computer has been the stuff of sci-fi lore for as long as the genre has been around. Yet as impossible as the idea may sound, science is beginning to catch up to fiction.
Watch this TED talk from Ramez Naam to get up to speed with the latest studies in the neural tech field – from telepathic communication of monkeys, to recording memories of rats. Over the past few decades, incredible strides have been made in the medical neurotech domain helping the deaf to hear and the blind to see.
In episode 5 of Warrior Radio, I sat down with scientist Dr. Jay Sanguinetti who spoke of Elon Musk’s company called Neuralink, bringing some of the brightest minds in neural-engineering to bridge the gap between mind and machine. To read an in-depth, mind-blowing overview of Musk’s mission, see Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future. Given Musk’s track record of taking far-out, sci-fi-ideas and materializing them into full-blown business enterprises, it’s difficult to bet against him doing the same with Neuralink.
If we compare brain-machine interface technology to that of video games, at best we’re at an 8-bit pong level of development. Yet as the field continues to evolve, it’s almost inevitable humanity will have these capabilities one day. When this point occurs (whether it’s 20 or 200 years from now), it will be a quantum leap in our evolution – akin to the introduction of the printing press or the internet.
Ramez Naam’s Nexus book series explores what that future could look like. The story follows a young neuroscientist named Kaden Lane, a trailblazer behind an experimental technology called Nexus, a drug that allowing the brain to send and receive information to computer networks. The result of this modern-day psychedelic is the holy grail of neural-engineering: the telepathic communication of thoughts, feelings, memories, and sense perceptions from one mind to the next.
As the opening quote references, these capabilities could be a monumental leap in the development of humanity, disrupting nearly every facet of our lives – from communication to education, to entertainment, and medicine. Here’s a list of some of the possibilities the book introduced me to. Imagine:
- How this would allow large groups, countries, even the world to be connected as a single mind, helping to break down the barriers of the self and awaken towards a collective consciousness.
- How this technology could transform intimacy – picture how much closer you could connect with your family member, friend or spouse (or resolve conflict more effectively) by connecting to each other’s mind and feel intimately what they are experiencing.
- How this would transform empathy around the world. Privileged, first-world citizens would intimately feel what it’s like to struggle in an impoverished third world country.
- How effective a physician, psychiatrist, or therapist could diagnose and treat their patient’s ailments if they could feel first hand what their patients were experiencing.
- How well a team could operate with their brains linked acting as a hive mind. Imagine how this would change team sports, the military, business organizations.
- Going to a concert, rave or festival where an entire arena was linked together, moving as one to the music.
- Being able to search a site like YouTube, yet instead of having an endless library of videos at your fingertips, accessing experiences you could step into. Imagine how this would affect the porn industry?
- Using the technology to help solve neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or other mental conditions such as Autism or Down Syndrome.
- Being able to feel what your lover experiences during sex (alongside feeling the pleasures from your own point of view).
- How this would transform communication. Words and sounds are simply tools to convey ideas sitting in our minds. Connecting minds would allow direct transfer of ideas and bypass clumsy mediums like speech.
- How this could solve human existential threats such as artificial superintelligence, as humans would finally have the capabilities of computers.
- Sharing experiences with your friends and family on social media. Instead of sharing photos of your latest vacation on FB, you could upload the actual experience for others to live out for themselves.
- How education would be transformed. We could be like Neyo and download a mountain of skills or knowledge into our brains.
Yet for every exciting opportunity, comes equally terrifying possibilities. Imagine scenarios such as:
- Radical religious groups getting their hands on this to help brainwash their followers and further their cause
- Marketing and advertising firms employing this to control consumer behavior
- Government organizations influencing entire nation-states (imagine how this could affect voting outcomes)
- Hackers breaking into the mind of a victim, prying away their most sensitive data – from intimate memories to passwords, to financial information
- Intelligence agencies using this for remote assassinations, engineering political coups, and other political coercion.
- Having your nervous system hacked, where you are no longer in control of your own body – imagine nightmarish scenarios of sexual predators taking advantage of this capability
- The elite controlling and profiting off this mind technology furthering the gap between the haves and the have-nots
If any of the ideas I just laid out peaked your interest in humanity’s future, then this book may be for you. The Nexus book series takes you on a journey, riding the line between the horrors and exciting possibilities this offers humanity.
As you’d imagine, if this technology were made available, there would be a host of government and private organizations all vying to take control of it for their own agenda. The protagonist Kaden Lane finds himself caught in a storm between government agencies, research institutions, underground drug organizations, religious groups, mind hackers, and more all trying to harness Nexus to accomplish their unique goals.
This book may have you grappling with a host of mind-bending, existential questions – what does it mean to be human when mind and computer merge? Where do you end and those around you begin when minds can become linked at the press of a button? What is consciousness itself (especially if it could be transferred to a computer)?
If you’re looking for a page-turning thriller that gives you a chilling glimpse of our future, then check out the Nexus book series here.